Practice Question –  Examine Karl Mark’s views on ‘class – in – itself’ and ‘class – for- itself’ with reference to proletarians. [UPSC 2010]

Approach – Introduction, Explain Class according to Marx, Write about ‘class – in – itself’ and ‘class – for- itself’ in the context of class struggle, Criticism and Conclusion. 



The word ‘class’ originated from the Latin term ‘classis’ which refers to a group called to arms, a division of the people. In the rule of legendary Roman king, Servius Tullius (678-534 B.C.), the Roman society was divided into five classes or orders according to their wealth. Subsequently, the world ‘class’ was applied to large groups of people into which human
society came to be divided.

Marx recognised class as a unique feature of capitalist societies. This is one reason why he did not analyse the class structure and class relations in other forms of society. Marx’s sociology is, in fact, a sociology of the class struggle. This means one has to understand the Marxian concept of class in order to appreciate Marxian philosophy and thought. Marx has used the term social class throughout his works but explained it only in a fragmented form. The most clear passages on the concept of class structure can be found in the third
volume of his famous work, Capital (1894). Under the title of ‘Social Classes’ Marx distinguished three classes, related to the three sources of income: (a) owners of simple labour power or labourers whose main source of income is labour; (b) owners of capital or capitalists whose main source of income is profit or surplus value; and (c) landowners whose main source of income is ground rent. In this way the class structure of modern capitalist society is composed of three major classes viz., salaried labourers or workers, capitalists and landowners. 



This vigorous growth of the forces of production was helped by the capitalist relations of production based on private capitalist ownership. Under capitalism, the produces, the proletariat, are legally free, being attached neither to the land nor to any particular factory. They are free in the sense that they can go to work for any capitalist, but they are not free
from the bourgeois class as a whole. Possessing no means of production, they are compelled to sell their labour power and thereby come under the
yoke of exploitation.

Due to this exploitation the relatively free labourers become conscious of their class interest and organise themselves into a working class movement. This working class movement intensified its struggle against the bourgeois class. It begins with bargaining for better wages and working conditions and culminates into an intensified class conflict, which is aimed at
overthrowing the capitalist system. Marx said that the capitalist system symbolises the most acute form of inequality, exploitation and class antagonism. This paves the way for a socialist revolution which would lead to a new stage of society i.e. communism. 



In Communist Manifesto Marx- Engels said: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. They argued that class conflict is the real driving force of human history. In the capitalist societies class differentiation is not clear, class consciousness is more developed and class conflict is most acute. Thus, capitalism is the culminating point in the historical evolution of classes and class conflict. The distinctive feature of bourgeois epoch is that society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other-bourgeoisie and proletariat. Marx also made a distinction between the objective fact of existence of a class and its subjective awareness about its being a class-class consciousness. Division of labour is the main source of historical emergence of classes and class antagonisms. Each new class which puts itself in place of the one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aims, to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society.



According to Karl Marx and Engels, the class struggle involves four stages of organization, namely common conditions, consciousness of awareness, organizing revolution. In modern industrial society the capitalists are a class for themselves that is they are aware of their common interest. The workers are a class in themselves. Though their living conditions are similar, they are not conscious of their common conditions or their common interests. When they develop class-consciousness, they will become a class for themselves. It takes time to develop this consciousness but it is an inevitable development according to Marx and Engels. For the workers are collected in factories and they become aware of their common interests and discuss their common problems. Moreover some members of the bourgeoisie who are aware of the inevitable course of history also join the workers- the proletariat. Thus they also become leaders assisting the workers to develop a sense of awareness and purpose. This is considered the second stage towards revolution when the proletariat develops class-consciousness. The third and final stage is of class solidarity and class-consciousness is reached when member realize that only by collective action can they overthrow the ruling class and when they take positive steps to do so.

Karl Marx believed that following aspects of capitalistic society would eventually lead to proletariat developing into class for itself. Firstly capitalistic society is by very nature unstable .It is based on contradictions and antagonisms that can only be resolved by its transformation. In particular the conflict of interest between the bourgeoisie and proletariat cannot be resolved within the framework of capitalistic economy. The basic conflict of interest involves the exploitation of workers by the capitalists. Marx believed that this contradiction would be highlighting the contraction between social production and individual ownership. As capitalism developed the workforce was increasingly concentrated in large factories where production was a social enterprise. Social production juxtaposed with individual ownership illuminates the exploitation of the proletariat. Social production also makes it easier for workers to organize themselves against the capitalists; it facilitates communication and encourages recognition of common circumstances and interest.



In Marxian terms, the history of society, so far, is the history of class struggle. This means that ever since the social inequality and exploitation started in human history, that is, beginning from slavery system, society has been divided into mutually warring classes of Haves and Have-nots. This successive class conflict and change in mode of production has
led to change in the stages of society from slavery to feudalistic and feudalistic to capitalistic system. The final social revolution would transform the capitalistic system into communist system where there would be no more classes, social inequality and class conflict. In other words, there will be de-alienation of the proletariat.

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